With the shut-out performance against Georgia Tech last week, the Irish defense is in some rare air compared to other ND defenses over the years. With the 55-0 victory over Georgia Tech, the defense has now gone over 12 quarters without giving up a touchdown. That kind of domination does not happen very often. In fact, since 1980 it has only happened twice.
The last time would have been in 2012 when the Irish went more than four games without giving up an offensive touchdown. That defense was led by Heisman trophy runner up Manti Te’o who had 111 tackles and 7 interceptions on the year and Stephon Tuitt who set the ND record for sacks in a season that year with 12.
The 2012 streak started by holding Michigan State to a field goal in a 20-3 victory. Next up was Michigan who managed 2 field goals in a 13-6 Irish win. Game three was more of the same as Miami was shut down in a Shamrock Series game played at Soldier Field, 41-3. Against Stanford the next week in a driving rainstorm the Irish prevailed 20-13 in overtime. A touchdown was scored, but Stanford’s offense failed to score it, keeping ND’s streak alive for the 4th straight game. The touchdown that Stanford did get came on an Everett Golson fumble in the end zone which was recovered for the 6 pointer.
The 2012 streak was then at 16 quarters (in the game prior to the streak, Purdue had scored on a TD pass late in the 4th quarter of a 20-17 Irish win). The Irish the next week extended the streak before BYU quarterback Riley Nelson hit a receiver from 6 yards out at the 8:25 mark of the 2nd quarter to end the Irish streak at 17 quarters.
The 2012 defense was an impressive one. For the season it gave up 12.77 points per game, 2nd best nationally.
Dan Devine’s 1980 set an even more impressive standard. Those Irish were led by Bob Crable at middle linebacker, and they notched a 23-quarter streak. No touchdowns were scored by Army, Arizona, Navy, Georgia Tech, and Alabama. In fact those five could only manage three field goals between them. The streak ended at 23 quarters when Air Force punched in a score in the 4th quarter of a 24-10 Irish win.
The 1980 defense gave up just 10.1 points per game, 5th best in the nation.
Comparing accomplishments across eras of many years can be a bit deceiving but going back to the 1960s there have been several other statistically great defensive streaks. In 1976 the Irish had a streak of five straight games without giving up a touchdown. The 1973 national championship team gave up an average of less than a touchdown and extra point per game at just 6.6 points. The 1966 national title team holds perhaps the most amazing distinction. That squad, that included the great Alan Page, gave up only 4 touchdowns all season and pitched 6 shutouts.
This week the Irish look to build on their historic streak of 12 straight quarters without giving up a touchdown at Stanford. But no matter what the result, Marcus Freeman’s 2021 defense has stamped itself on ND history.